Posted in fairy tales, general and welcome

Happy Birthday, Charles Perrault!

Anyone who’s visited Google’s page today will have seen that they have dedicated their Doodle to Charles Perrault, the oft-cited father of the modern fairy tale. Had he been a character in his own fairy tale, he might be celebrating his 388th birthday. However, he was a real person and subject to nature’s laws so we have to make do with remembering his life instead.

Charles Perrault

While many people may have heard of Charles Perrault, his name is not necessarily the first that springs to mind when you talk about fairy tales. Instead, that honour goes to the Brothers Grimm, who came around 200 years later and who used Perrault’s texts, including popular tales as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Blue Beard and Sleeping Beauty as a basis for their own. Perrault wasn’t the author of those tales – they were circulating orally before his time – but he did set them down on paper for readers to enjoy.

Be warned, though: his version of these classic tales are not the sanitised stories we read today. Fairy tales came into existence to entertain and also to instruct – the gruesome fates that often befell the main protagonists were warnings for the unwary. Alongside their parents, children would have listened to tales that probably would be rated 18+ at the cinema nowadays. The wolf in Red Riding Hood, for example, is a man who targets little girls wandering alone in the woods against their mothers’ permission, while unknowing Sleeping Beauty shares her bed with a series of men who take advantage of her sleeping sickness.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the sordid nature of the tales, they were fantastically popular and were translated into English for our ancestors’ enjoyment. Still, I can’t imagine reading his versions to any of the young children I work with now without being fired from my job!

If you can track down the originals, it’s well worth it to see how a fairy tale can change with the passage of time, particularly when critics say that nowadays children are becoming desensitised to violence. The fact that Perrault’s brutal retellings of popular tales can shock us in 2016 shows that perhaps we’re made of more sensitive stuff than our ancestors.

Posted in fairy tales, picture books

Review: Into the Forest, by Anthony Browne,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpg

Image courtesy of

Please be aware that this review contains spoilers, so please don’t read Sam’s review if you don’t wish to know them!

What it’s about: (taken from the blurb on the back)

‘Dad was gone and Mum didn’t seem to know when he’d be back. Mum asked me to take a cake to Grandma, who was poorly. She told me to go the long way round, but I wanted to be home in case Dad came back. So, instead, I chose the forbidden path into the forest…’

Holly’s review: This book is its own book but also links other fairytale books into it and you only really realise some of them by looking at the pictures and occasionally you need a little help by the words. I think this book is absolutely amazing because of all the beautiful pictures and writing and one story links into loads of others. This is also a bit of an odd book. But in a good, confusing sort of way that is hard to explain. Overall, I think this book is a truly amazing but yet a bizarre book.

Sam’s review: Hmm… I don’t know where to start with this book. I had heard many good things about it and it certainly impressed me with the level of skill and intertextuality in it, as Holly points out in her review. Not only do you have the boy’s story, told in the first person (therefore giving the book more immediacy for the reader), you also have a surreal experience that he goes through on his way to his grandmother. This draws in fairytale influences through the characters he meets on his way. The journey itself is immediately identifiable to that of Little Red Riding Hood, as he is told to take a cake to his sick grandma, but to not take the short cut through the wood. Of course he does but not just to rebel – he wants to get back home more quickly in case his dad, who has mysteriously disappeared, comes back.

This is where I get stuck with this book. While I applaud Browne’s amazing attention to detail in his pictures, which keep you intrigued for ages as you spot clues from popular fairy tales, I became angry with the mother in the book. Why did she not tell the boy where the father had gone? The reader is kept in what I presume to be similar suspense as the boy’s as to why the dad has left and why there is no indication of where he is.  Browne doesn’t really shed any further light on what has happened – the boy opens the door to grandma’s house, convinced he will meet the wolf, and instead encounters both his grandma and his dad. The mother’s expression at the beginning suggests great sadness – had he died? Disappeared? But the end has him reunited with his family, so was she just worried about grandma being ill? Or did the couple have an argument?

Fairy tales, according to Freudian child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, have the purpose of allowing children to experience their fears – primarily those relating to parental abandonment – in a safe arena. Children are drawn into a fantasy world, which they can easily identify as fictional, where they can see the worst possible things happen and a resolution be reached by the end. This happens in Into the Forest but resolution is not really reached by the boy’s actions (which could therefore otherwise be seen as empowering). The journey through the forest is undoubtedly a psychological one, as he meets other fairy tale characters who have experienced fear and/or abandonment or rejection by their parents – all symbolised through Browne’s greyscale pictures. His ending at grandma’s, the climax in a series of tension-building encounters, is pictorially cathartic: colours flood the page again. This is a Happy Ever After, but there is no real sense of satisfaction – what caused the unhappiness before? In fairy tales, the wrongdoing of the parents or guardians is explicit – here, there is just confusion.


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Posted in fairy tales

Happy 200th Grimms!

Happy 200th Grimms Fairy Tales!

It’s the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales. I have been immersed in their stories, and in critical approaches to them, for the past eight weeks or so, as part of my MA in Children’s Literature. Click on the above link for a brief summary of what’s happening at the moment, and for older posts on aspects of fairy tales.

Below is a lovely illustration from Little Snow White, by Anne Anderson (1874-1930).

What is your favourite Grimm fairy tale?

Image courtesy of